Goodness, it's been a while, hasn't it? I'm sorry I abandoned my posting duties, but it's been a momentous week. Oh yes, indeed, in more ways than one.
First of all? A baby was born!
Second of all? A wedding dress was bought!
Third of all? I finally got my friend Amy to teach me how to make dumplings and my life may never be the same again.
I should clarify: A. I did not give birth. But my dear friends and honorary family members welcomed their lyrically named daughter, Emma Tarsoly (you Hungarian speakers out there will know what that sounds like), into the world. And there was much rejoicing!
And B. People, I am not getting married. But Ben's sister is, and I have to tell you that there is nothing better in terms of wedding dress shopping than getting to wander through the shops of New York with the world's most relaxed bride who cares not a whit for traditional bridal salons and allowed me to squire her around to all my favorite shops so that I could fondle pretty frocks in a covetous stupor while she managed to find a dreamy dress and keep her wits about her (it was the very first one she tried!).
Okay, now that that's settled, we can focus on the (pressing) matter at hand. Dumplings, dumplings and, oh, the glorious dumplings.
I met my friend Amy in Paris years ago. One evening she had me over to her chambre de bonne (where the shower was in the kitchen, natch, right next to the stove, and the toilet was down the hall - um, the outside hall, where other people lived and shared that very same toilet, can you just imagine having to get up to go in the middle of the night only to find your next-door neighbor already occupying the loo, leaving you to wait, foot tapping, eyes obstinately glued shut in an attempt to block out the forces of light and cold that could very well wake you up entirely out of your hard-won slumber, until you could finally dash in, out, and back to bed in record time? I could not and still cannot) and, in the blink of an eye, whipped up the most delicious Chinese meal of sauteed spinach and shiitake mushrooms - with a dash of cornstarch here, a glug of something thick and dark and aromatic there, and an alchemy of ingredients that had me transfixed.
What I was thinking was, "You mean to tell me, universe, that this chic little woman, with a closet full of little black dresses, a penchant for Pineau de Charentes and late nights, and impeccable taste in tartes au citron, could also be the best Taiwanese cook since, well, anything?" (I grew up on Golden Temple, friends.)
The universe nodded.
Ever since then, after Amy and I both left Paris and came to New York, I have wheedled and begged and whined and bugged her to teach me her secrets.
"Where do you go shopping, Amy?" Flushing. "Flushing! Take me to Flushing! Do a Flushing field trip, Amy, please! I can't do it without you."
"Amy, what's that?" Plum wine. "And that?" Dried Chinese sausage. "And, oooo, that?!" Dumpling skins. ("...!")
"How do you make dumplings, Amy?" Oh, I don't know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. "But how much of this, and how much of that? And what are this and that, anyway? Tell me, Amy, tell me, please!"
It was enough to drive anyone batty.
But Amy is not only chic and beautiful and a glorious cook, she's also a kind and generous friend. Last week, she finally took pity on me and initiated me into the world of super-humans who can make Chinese dumplings at home (steamed and fried!). And we were triumphant, I would say.
Wouldn't you agree?
We prepped and filled and crimped and steamed and fried until dumplings - some translucent and delicate, others golden-brown and lusty - covered every available surface in the apartment. And then we ate. We ate ourselves completely silly. And yes, the dumplings were fantastically delicious. Worth all the incessant wheedling I'd subjected Amy to. Worth all the prep work she'd generously done for us. Worth all the crimping at the living room coffee table. But you know what the real tragedy is?
I forgot to write down the recipe. (My weak line of defense is that Amy is one of those cooks who does everything a l'occhio, but still, I know, it's no excuse to leave you so high and dry.)
After you're finished hating me, let me tell you that it's actually a blessing. Because making these without Amy there next to you just wouldn't be the same. Scout's honor.
Instead I offer you a paltry, paltry recipe, one that you should crush in your dumpling-less fists and throw back at the screen at me. In return for Amy's dumpling tutorial, I'd promised to make dessert, choosing Nigella Lawson's orange-chocolate cake from a New York Times column ages ago when she was obsessed with Seville oranges.
The cake, with two (whopping) tablespoons of cocoa barely tasted of chocolate. (And I snuck in a third, just for good measure. It didn't make a difference.) Sure, it was light and fluffy, and the orange syrup was lovely, but Nigella's recipe had it baking in a loaf pan and this batter barely even filled the 6x6 pan we have in our kitchen. I'm not entirely sure how her cake could have been anything else than something the height of a petit four. But whatever, let's not even waste another sentence on a silly little cake when there are dumplings to ogle and drool over and dreamily plan to recreate some time very, very, very soon.
With a recipe then, I promise.
Chocolate Orange Drizzle Cake
Yields 8 servings
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup light brown sugar
Finely grated zest and juice of two Seville oranges (about 1/2 cup); or 6 tablespoons orange juice and 3 tablespoons lime juice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
2 large eggs
1/4 cup whole milk
3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a small, square baking pan, and line it with parchment paper.
2. In a mixer, beat butter until soft. Add brown sugar, and beat again until soft and creamy. Mix in zest of 1 orange. In another bowl, stir together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and cocoa.
3. Whisk eggs into butter-sugar mixture one at a time, alternating with a little flour mixture. Fold in remaining flour mixture. Add milk. Stir until smooth. Pour into pan.
4. Bake until cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, 30 minutes. In a saucepan combine juice, remaining zest and confectioner's sugar. Place over low heat until sugar dissolves. Strain into a pitcher.
5. When the cake comes out of the oven, pierce it all over with the cake tester. Slowly drizzle warm syrup over the cake so that it sinks in. Allow cake to sit in the pan until it has cooled, then transfer to a serving plate.